Thursday, June 24, 2004

Kenya: Watching Mungiki

Date: Thursday 24 June 2004
Subj: Kenya: Watching Mungiki
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


THE VIOLENCE OF MUNGIKI

On Tuesday 8 June, the head of Simon Ndabi Kamore was found wrapped in green plastic on the pavement near the bus stop "where he had been preaching his new found religion three days ago on Sunday". His body has not yet been found. (Numerous grisly rumours abound as to what has happened to his torso.)

Simon Ndabi Kamore, a former member of the outlawed Mungiki sect, had denounced the sect after converting to Christianity and paid the ultimate price.

The East African Standard reports, "The murder comes in the wake of a recent revelation that fanatical Mungiki adherents have in the recent past been attacking and killing any sect member who dares to reconvert to another religion or disassociates himself with the outlawed outfit." (Link 1)

Earlier this year police placed Mungiki defectors on a 24-hour guard following the brutal murder of three members and the kidnapping of several who had openly denounced the sect. The killings have included those of Pastor James Irungu Njenga and his wife Florence, who were shot dead in March 2004 at their home in the Kiamaiko slum in Nairobi, in front of their children.

Most Mungiki members have a Christian background. Multitudes have been recruited from amongst young, nominal, disillusioned or dissatisfied church members. Some Mungiki members recently have left the sect and recommitted their lives to Jesus Christ. Last year Mungiki leaders gave defectors an ultimatum: return to the sect by January 2004 or be killed. At least 18 people have been murdered since the deadline expired, allegedly by a highly skilled Mungiki hit squad.

Since its rise in the late 1990s the Mungiki sect has left a trail of arson, murder, forced oathing, forced circumcision, extortion and terror in its wake. Most recently, on Monday evening 14 June, Mungiki sect members rampaged through Mlango Kubwa, Pangani, slashing people with machetes, allegedly in retribution against residents who had complained to the police that Mungiki sect members were extorting "protection money" by force. Mungiki sect members dragged 13-year-old Evelyn Mumbua from her home while her mother was at church. They took her into the street, slit her throat and threatened to kill anyone who attempted to assist her. Evelyn Mumbua bled to death. (Link 2)

THE APPEAL OF MUNGIKI

The Mungiki sect has some 2 million members. It is able to attract such numbers because it appeals to tribalism, is anti-West, and calls people back to traditional African tribal religions at a time when these things are all very popular. These elements attract especially those who are poor and feeling frustrated and hopeless due to their socio-economic situation, or confused by social change.

The Kikuyu is the largest tribe in Kenya, numbering around 6.8 million. Mungiki is a Kikuyu sect whose most fundamental aim is to unite the Kikuyu, revive the spirit of the Mau Mau independence fighters who fought the British in the 1950s, and liberate Kenyans from all Western influence and oppression. Because the ultimate aim is to have the Kikuyu dominating Kenya's politics and economy, there are Kikuyu politicians, civil servants and police who secretly support the sect.

While it is essentially political, Mungiki poses as a traditional religious group. The sect members take oaths, perform strange and secret rituals, pray facing Mt Kenya (which is, they believe, the home of their god Ngai), and take snuff during their worship ritual as their form of "holy communion".

The Mungiki maintain that their god has called them to liberate people oppressed by Western ideologies. The main war fronts for the Mungiki on their road to liberation are Western culture and Christianity. They promote the traditional Kikuyu way of life and take a hardline stand against all Western ideologies and culture. They assault women they claim are dressed inappropriately, stripping them naked in public, and they violently promote female genital mutilation. They aggressively reject Christianity as a cultural manifestation of Western civilisation that has perpetuated neo-colonialism, i.e. indirect domination of the developing world by the First World through economic imperialism.

Their strident anti-West, anti-Christian stance has enabled a loose Mungiki Muslim alliance. In September 2000 thirteen leaders of the sect converted to Islam without denouncing any of their own Mungiki beliefs. This was doubtless a strategy of the Mungiki leaders to harness the support of Kenya's Muslims in their fight against Christianity and Western influence, and to make any attack on Mungiki an attack on Islam. During the September 2000 initiation of the 13 converting Mungiki leaders, Sheikh Shee, Chairman of Kenya's Council of Imams, in his sermon at the Sakina mosque in Mombasa called upon the government to stop harassing Mungiki followers. The Council of Imams said that Mungiki had become part and parcel of the Muslim community. However, other Muslim leaders have subsequently denounced the Mungiki on account of their criminality.

TAKING MUNGIKI SERIOUSLY - WHERE TO GO?

While the Mungiki sect is both political and religious, it recruits primarily amongst unemployed, bored, poor, disaffected youths. These disillusioned, frustrated youths delight in criminality and regard Christianity with contempt. They are frustrated by and angry about their poverty and hopelessness. They believe, or at least hope, that salvation from their plight is possible through emulating their Mau Mau liberator heroes, casting off the last vestiges of Western imperialism for complete liberation and empowerment.

It is for these very reasons that Mungiki must be taken seriously. The issues of unemployment, poverty, hopelessness and lack of identity - issues at the root of Mungiki rebellion, issues aiding recruitment - must be taken seriously. The issue of unscrupulous politicians using depressed, disillusioned, disaffected and desperate youths for political advantage also must be taken seriously. With 2 million members, supporters in high places, and big promises of solidarity, liberation and empowerment, Mungiki must be regarded as a serious threat.

Mungiki has all the ingredients needed to create an enduring and expanding problem. It is a politico-religious sect created for the purpose of solidarity and empowerment at the expense of others. Similar movements in the history of world religion have proved extremely successful and very threatening.

The Church in Kenya needs our prayers that it may be part of the solution, or it may just find itself facing a growing and increasingly hostile and militant enemy.

Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Mungiki defector beheaded
Standard Correspondent. 9 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news09060409.htm

2) Mungiki kill girl in attack
By Evelyn Kwamboka and Noel Wandera. 16 June 2004
http://www.eastandard.net/headlines/news16060402.htm